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Canadiens coach Martin St. Louis taps analytics for on-ice insight

"I don’t think it’s the whole story, but sometimes it steers us or it keeps us accountable," he says of feedback from advanced metrics chief Christopher Boucher.

“I’ve been always fascinated by (analytics) and now I get to really dive in with it and I think it’s helped us map our routes and how we’re going to progress as a team,” Canadiens head coach Martin St. Louis says.
“I’ve been always fascinated by (analytics) and now I get to really dive in with it and I think it’s helped us map our routes and how we’re going to progress as a team,” Canadiens head coach Martin St. Louis says. Photo by John Mahoney /Montreal Gazette

Monday marked the one-year anniversary of Canadiens owner/president Geoff Molson firing general manager Marc Bergevin and assistant GM Trevor Timmins, while hiring Jeff Gorton as the executive vice-president of hockey operations.

The Canadiens had a 6-15-2 record at the time and Gorton said his main priorities after taking over were to modernize the franchise with a focus on player development while building an analytics department.

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Since taking over, Gorton has hired Kent Hughes as GM, fired head coach Dominique Ducharme and replaced him with Martin St. Louis, hired Adam Nicholas as director of hockey development and hired Christopher Boucher as director of the new advanced statistics and analytics department.

Heading into Tuesday’s game against the San Jose Sharks at the Bell Centre (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM), the rebuilding Canadiens have a surprising 11-9-1 record. Through Sunday’s games, they were only two points out of a wild-card playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

St. Louis says he hasn’t looked at the standings since the start of the season and they aren’t posted in the team’s locker room. He said the team’s goal remains the same — to “win every day,” whether it’s a practice or a game, while continuing to improve. St. Louis added it’s easy to measure success by just looking at the standings, but that’s not what he’s doing.

“My expectations are still the same,” he said after practice Monday. “It’s to keep growing as a team. From the time I came here last year, to training camp to now, it’s just keep getting better. Every day, just keep getting better. I’m sure outside expectations are going to start creeping in the deeper we get into the season, but we’re not there. We’re just worrying about each and every day.”

St. Louis said his job as a coach is to put players in a position to have success and gain confidence. He often says that “the game speaks to us” when it comes to where improvements have to be made and what needs to be worked on during practices.

The new analytics department is helping St. Louis do his job.

“I think the biggest thing with the analytics is Bouch is full-time, so he’s around,” St. Louis said. “We’re able to collaborate with him and get some feedback. Now, is (analytics) the whole story? I don’t think it’s the whole story, but sometimes it steers us or it keeps us accountable a little bit of what we think we’re doing well. Maybe we’re like: ‘Ah, it’s not as good as we think we’re doing it. How do we do it better?’ Because sometimes without the data you just have the result and you think everything is good. But the data really confirms if things are good or helps you get things a little better on both sides.”

With centre Sean Monahan missing practice this morning for a maintenance day, here's how #Habs forward lines and defence pairings looked. Coach Martin St. Louis said he's not sure if Monahan will be OK to play tomorrow vs. San Jose Sharks. Jake Allen will start in goal #HabsIO:

— Stu Cowan (@StuCowan1) November 28, 2022

Boucher provides St. Louis with analytics data on a daily basis with good things highlighted in green and bad things in red.

“Sometimes the red — the bad — sometimes it’s not as bad as what the red says,” St. Louis said. “It’s all how you interpret it. I think, collectively, we can come up with some answers based on some of the data that we get and it helps steer us in the right direction or navigate us to what’s next with our group. I’ve never had that. I’ve never really used that. I’ve been always fascinated by (analytics) and now I get to really dive in with it and I think it’s helped us map our routes and how we’re going to progress as a team.”

St. Louis said he will meet with Boucher after every five games or so to look over the analytics data closely.

“If there’s red flags, we’ll look at them,” St. Louis said. “You can’t (look) after every game having a red flag. It’s got to be a trend and stuff. So we’re careful, but we’re conscious if there’s trends we have to address it.”

Guhle on the right

For the last two games — road victories over the Columbus Blue Jackets and Chicago Blackhawks — St. Louis has moved defenceman Kaiden Guhle to the right side with Joel Edmundson as his partner.

Since the start of the season, Guhle — a left-hand shot — had been playing on the left side with David Savard as his partner. Savard is playing with Mike Matheson, who missed the first 17 games with an abdominal muscle strain.

St. Louis is confident Guhle can handle playing on his off-side even though he’s a 20-year-old rookie and Edmundson — also a left-hand shot — is a 29-year-old veteran in his eighth NHL season.

“It’s not like we put Guhls on the right and didn’t have a conversation with him,” St. Louis said. “Roby (assistant coach Stéphane Robidas) talked to him about it before the game (against Columbus). I think Guhls, one of his biggest assets is his skating. But also, Guhls is a hockey player and because of his skating he’s very versatile. Is playing the right easy for a lefty? No, it’s not, especially in this league. But we feel that he has the ability, the tools to manage the right side. So is that a vote of confidence from us? Yeah. But I don’t think we would put a kid there thinking that he couldn’t do the job and hurt his confidence doing it.

“We’ve had three months with him now where we know the player he is, we know his assets,” St. Louis added about Guhle. “So we felt comfortable that putting him at the right side would help the team at the time and also would not hurt the player.”

Guhle is averaging 20:23 of ice time per game, the third-most among NHL rookies behind Buffalo Sabres defenceman Owen Power (23:37) and Ottawa Senators defenceman Jake Sanderson (20:59). In 21 games, Guhle has 1-7-8 totals and a minus-6 differential.

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